Congress Utrecht, NL, 2018

Report of the ILRS-conference, 27-29 September 2018, Utrecht, The Netherlands

(by Dr. Reinhard Gaede and Thomas Kegel, BRSD, Germany – a german view on the congress …)

The International League of Religious Socialists (ILRS), which meets every three years, this time invited its member organisations to Utrecht. The Austrian and Swiss members* had not come. Unfortunately, the ones from England have not come for quite some time. But Sweden, Norway, Finland were well represented as always. Many participants came from the host country Netherlands. Spain, whose organisation had blossomed since the ILRS conference in Cordoba in October 2009, was represented by a relatively large group. We came from Germany: Thomas, Ingelore, Reinhard.
Utrecht, university city, fourth largest city of the Netherlands with a rich cultural history and a beautiful old town with the Oudegracht and other canals, with cathedral (bishop’s seat), numerous churches, university, museums and parks, we have now got to know and appreciate. The conference building was located in Booth Street, No. 7, in the centre of Utrecht. The house pragmatically mixes church use with the possibility of holding conferences. The organiser of our conference was the Dutch ILRS member organisation Banning Vereniging. (Willem Banning, 1988-1971, Reformed pastor, sociologist, was president of the International Federation of Religious Socialists.)
ILRS had named a central theme: Europe as a community of values. It is necessary to strengthen the social democratic and socialist movement. The social democratic parties are in a difficult position everywhere in Europe. Europe and European cooperation are under stress. Violent attacks have come from populist movements that undercut the foundations of European cooperation. Europe’s social democracy urgently needs a new narrative about European cooperation to revitalise its policies as well as its appeal to voters. In order to fuel the debate for this new narrative about Europe, key social democratic values such as democracy, freedom, equality, peace and justice urgently needed a thorough revision against the threatening background of the current dispute over the future of Europe.
The intention to draw up “a declaration on the key values of the social democratic movement” and to bring religious and moral perspectives, which have “had a great influence on the social democratic movement” in history, into this discussion was also realised. (see documentation “A NEW NARRATIVE ON EUROPE – A new narrative about Europe”)

But for the german BRSD, which is, like the Dutch (partly) and Swiss organisations, organised as a movement independent of political parties, there is a separate declaration (author Thomas Kegel for the BRSD Federal Executive Committee) entitled: “There are alternatives: For a socially just, democratic and ecological Europe – Against the neoliberal European Minstream” with 13 important demands, oriented “not only to parties, neither to social democracy” or “other left parties”, but also to activities “in the social movements of civil society and in the trade unions”. This declaration is also being supposed by the ILRS Congress.

ILRS should also support and actively participate in the Ecumenical Movement in Europe, including a European Christian Convention.

The program presented the following speakers with their topics:

Prof. Dr. Frank Vandenbroucke: A Social Europe after the Economic Crisis, (Correferates: Dr. Paul Tang and Prof. Dr. Klara Boonstra).
Dr. Robin de Bruin and Prof. Dr. Erik Borgman: European Values as Foundation and Future of European Cooperation
Henk van Houtum and Marjanne de Haan: Migration as a controversial question of the future
Shivant Jhagroe and Jan Vos: Climate change as main issue in dispute

The introductory keynote lecture by Frank Vandenbroucke, a Belgian socialist politician and scholar, saw a belief in convergence among the founding fathers: integration through economic cooperation complemented by an orientation towards the European model of the welfare state. But the grown EU – from 5 to 16 member states – is heterogeneous: Welfare states erode, poverty spreads, social rights are restricted in individual countries. His plea: “A European social union is not a luxury, but a necessity. It is important to systematically support the key functions of the European welfare states. He called for the so-called Social Pillar of the EU to be established and further developed in order to achieve a European Social Union. In fact, the EU is currently taking tentative steps in this direction. (https://www.socialeurope.eu/gothenburg-social-summit-european-social-union)
Dr. Robin de Bruin, University, Amsterdam, spoke about the preamble (http://www.bpb.de/nachschlagen/gesetze/eu-vertrag/44178/praeambel) of the founding treaty of the EU, the fundamental rights and the various interests, ideas and ideals of the actors. There are paradoxical connections between integration, human rights, democracy and the rule of law in historical perspective since the Pan-Europe vision of Richard Coudenhove-Kalergis, which only experienced a renaissance after the Second World War. Then, however, the integration process was ambivalent.
Eric Borgmann, Professor of Systematic Theology at Tilburg/NL University, saw the European values, the common culture and the common heritage of Christianity from two sides. The religious wars divided Europe, were common destiny, reconciliation is needed by the peoples. But now new aspects of the Christian message have been rediscovered: God’s identification with the victims above the image of the dead Christ on the cross. Or the pastoral constitution ‘Church in the modern world’ ‘gaudium et spes’ (Joy and Hope) during the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) with Pope John XXIII or ‘Les prêtres ouvriers’ (The Workers’ Priests) or the encyclical of Pope John XXXIII. Pacem in terris’, on peace among all peoples in truth, justice, love and freedom, 11 April 1963. A book by E. Borgman entitled Leven van wat komt: een katholiek uitzicht op de samenleving (2017).

Prof. Henk van Houtum from Radboud University Nijmegen has written a book: ‘Houtum H. van, en L. Lucassen, (2016), Voorbij Fort Europa, ein nieuwe visie op migratie, Atlas Contact’.
He quoted Art. 1 of the UN Human Rights Charter (https://www.menschenrechtserklaerung.de) “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights…”. And presented a 3 point plan: 1. acceptance that migration is a part of human society. 2. migrants are 3% of the world’s population, refugees 1%. 85% of refugees are received outside Europe. (Emigration figures not mentioned.) 3. Immediate stop of the fear language related to migration (No analogy with flood, disease or insects.)” He called for: protection of refugees and legal certainty for them. This can be achieved through safe legal migration routes and distribution of refugees in Europe. A global migration agreement should also be adopted – this was actually adopted by the UN shortly after the conference, but is still criticised by many governments today.
And he quoted Pope Francis, who said critically on 5 November 2011: “We are saving the banks, but not the people. This is the bankruptcy of humanity.”
Marjanne de Haan presented the worldwide activities of PAX CHRISTI. (https://www.paxchristi.net/ )
Dr. Shivant Jhagroe, Assistant Professor at Leiden University, said: “Climate justice is the ethical responsibility of powerful groups to reduce the causes and effects of climate change, especially for the most vulnerable groups. … Climate justice across national borders is a promising alternative.”
Jan Vos reported on hunger revolts in the past and showed scenarios for the future: “In the year 2000, food production will decrease by 50%, the world population will double, the sea water level will rise by 1-6 meters. The current debate on the impact of climate change on income only diverts attention from the question of our massive ecological challenge. The consequence of the current inertia will be global poverty, hunger and division of our political system. A new banning is needed (in the sense of the earlier union of religion and labor movement) to merge green and left parties to identify the greatest challenge in terms of humanity: To make the earth worth living for future generations and to protect our political systems from division.”


Saturday was reserved for discussion of the Congress resolution(s). At the General Assembly, Johan van Workum honoured Cecilia Dalman Eek, President of ILRS for 10 years.
María Ángeles Sanz del Moral from Spain was elected as the new President.

We thanked our hosts, especially Maarten van den Bos, who had opened and decisively organized the conference.
We enjoyed the conversations with the participants very much. We were especially pleased to meet Johan van Workum again. He often accompanied the BRSD, attended our annual meetings and invited Ingelore and Reinhard to his house in Leidschendam.

An assessment of the conference: The clear orientation of the members towards the social democratic parties of their respective countries of origin was striking. An independent socialist opinion and criticism should complement this orientation (so the german delegation). Since election campaigns in Sweden and Spain were currently or in the near future to be won or lost, the members were primarily concerned with supporting the social democratic parties there (in these election campaigns). This may be understandable in the light of national backgrounds. But with this the ILRS also takes a chance: namely to stimulate a connection of the different left groups and parties in order to form a broader human rights, ecological and socialist oriented camp.
It was also clear that the analyses and discussions usually took place on the “political surface”. Thus there was no political-economic foundation for the discussion, nor was there any attempt to explain Europe’s current deficits from the predominantly neoliberal agenda and the national interests of the capitalist economies of the member states. A pure discussion of values and legal issues is clearly not enough here. Surely this cannot help the misery of European social democracy. In almost all European countries, the social democratic parties, after which until recently they were the governments, are only a fraction of their former electoral successes. Only in Portugal and Great Britain, with their clearly left-wing party profiles,this is different.
If these trends continue in Europe, European social democracy will sink into insignificance. Since the “left” as a whole is not particularly strong either, the social rights and workers’ rights in Europe are under threat. Who then will defend them?